An Interview with committee members past and present

In the spirit of this year’s anniversary celebrations, our sister-organisation ELTA-Rhine asked us to answer some interview questions on HELTA’s history. Here they are, for your pleasure.

1. Tell us a little about HELTA’s history. You say it’s the oldest ELTA in Germany? What was the motivation behind establishing a teaching association? Are any of the founding members still active in the association?

Sarah Plochl, Current Chair: Yes, they are! In fact… let’s hear from them directly!

Tim Sebbage, Founding Member: As a language school director in Colonnaden, I’ve seen plenty of young Brits come and go. Some fall into ELT, others into the Elbe, some both. And there is plenty of rivalry between the freelancers, all elbowing to get customers, enough just scraping a living. The British Council’s RSA Cert. TEFL in 79-80 would form the nucleus of a new unifying breed of ELTeacher that would create HELTA…

Patrick Woulfe, Founding Member: The spark that launched HELTA was coupled with the arrival of an exceptionally good British Council school in HH in 1979. I successfully lobbied BC management to run the coveted RSA CELTA course (Forerunner of Cambridge Dip ) if I could provide required minimum of 20 teachers and subject to BC interviews. I personally visited every language school in Hamburg in search of candidates. Many were interested but unable to commit due to time, fees and their teaching experience. The course began in autumn 1979 and ended in spring 1980 with elated exam ‘survivors’ meeting occasionally for afternoon Happy Hour at the “Bistro Gürke” in Mittelweg. It was gratifying to be in the company of jovial and accomplished RSA holders that summer. And have the opportunity to see them gain a qualification that would stand them in good stead throughout their careers. The spark to launch HELTA had landed.

2. What are some of the highlights in HELTA’s history?

Kay Kilshaw, former Committee Member: Thinking over how HELTA has evolved over 40 years, one thing that immediately came to my mind is our channels of communication with members. Like many organizations, this was originally achieved via a newsletter. The original newsletter – HELTA News – was typical for the time and focussed mainly on event reviews. It was replaced around 2000 by English Teaching Matters, a joint effort of the Stuttgart, Berlin-Brandenburg and Hamburg ELTAs. This was also a paper-based publication, with a very professional look. Around 2011 this publication came to an end as the associations moved towards a more efficient and cheaper means of communication: the online world. Thanks to the commitment and hard work of numerous members the newsletters and websites have indeed played important roles in informing, maintaining and expanding membership.

Andreas Grundtvig, former Chair: Before my time, HELTA helped to organise the BESIG Conference in Hamburg. Kay would be able to comment more here. In my time I think some highlights were working together with IATEFL, meeting speakers and bringing them to HH, but that isn’t unique to HELTA. Members’ Day, the English at Work conference in 2018, EAP, Inter-ELTAs… Working with brilliant committee members (in chronological order) – Andi White, Felicitas van Vloten, Kay, Mike Hogan, Jim Maloney, Kat… Wilton, Andrew… Sarah, Helen… I don’t think Vincent and I were on the committee at the same time but his input was still great!

3. What about HELTA now? How many members have you got and where are they from? Where do they work?

Andrew Moore, current Membership Secretary: Currently we have 127 members.

Sarah Plochl, current Chair: According to a survey we ran last year, our members are predominantly freelancers who teach Business English, followed by General English and ESP. The survey also revealed that most of them have been HELTA members for more than ten years! While this makes us proud, we are also thinking about ways to attract more new members. Our membership is very international and we are actively advocating for non-native speaking teachers (such as myself) to join HELTA and participate actively.

4. Why did you join HELTA? How did you end up being a committee member?

Vincent Wongaiham-Petersen, current Vice-Chair and Events-Coordinator: I’ve always been passionate about attending workshops. I love the vibe and energy in a room of peers collectively experiencing enlightenment and a-ha moments. And I absolutely loved the takeaways from them. So it was inevitable that I would become a supporter and member of the local organization making this happen: HELTA! Becoming a committee member was just taking this to the next level – not only wanting to attend these workshops but also wanting to have a hand in making these happen.

5. Where do you see HELTA in the next 5 years?

Andreas Grundtvig, former Chair: Good question – it is unrecognisable from five years ago! Even in 2020 it had changed far beyond the TA I recognise… very positively.

Sarah Plochl, current Chair: It’s a curious thing that as we were forced to go online with our events in corona-times, we worried that we would ‘lose’ some of our older members who would perhaps feel less comfortable with online meetings. But the exact opposite was the case! The online events have allowed some of our oldest (both as in “mature” and as in “longest-standing”) members to attend our events and we’ve been having a great time reconnecting with members who couldn’t ordinarily join our events. We have been collaborating so much more with our sister-ELTAs in putting on online events and I must say that we are more connected than we ever were before! I believe that this may be where the future of HELTA is going. In 1981, it was crucial that a small group of ex-pats in Hamburg could build a local place to meet and hone their craft. In 2021 and beyond, we have a huge, diverse group of people in the English language professions and collaborating with other associations ‘glocally’ is allowing us to cater to their diverse interests and needs, while still providing the steadfast community that teachers need to stay motivated, sharp and happy in their work.

You can contact HELTA on the contact page.